Armenia: NRC country programmes

Report
from Norwegian Refugee Council
Published on 05 Dec 2002
The Norwegian Refugee Council has the following goals for its work in Armenia:
  • Promote integration of refugees from Azerbaijan who are not expected to return to their country

  • Contribute to voluntary return of internally displaced persons to their conflict-struck villages

  • Contribute to improving education and introduction of human rights as a subject in schools
This is what we are doing:
  • Rehabilitating homes and helping refugees who want to get Armenian nationality

  • Map out the situation for people who were forced to leave their villages along the Azeri border due to conflict

  • Offering training in human rights and democracy in collaboration with the school authorities

  • Advocacy activities directed towards the local government to maintain the rights of the refugees
Recent developments in projects

Armenia's 230 000 refugees are ethnic Armenians who lived in Azerbaijan before the war. They foresee little chance of being able to return there, and the Armenian authorities regard integration of the refugees into Armenian society as the only permanent solution to the problem. The main goal of the Norwegian Refugee Council's activities in Armenia is therefore to facilitate the integration process. This means that we are working in a transitional phase between emergency relief and development aid.

The Norwegian Refugee Council's main target areas in Armenia are rehabilitation and construction of new homes and schools. The work is carried out in close collaboration with the local authorities. The refugees are employed and participate in the work in the rehabilitation phase. This helps boost the families' economy. In order to help improve the economic situation in the different regions we work in, the Norwegian Refugee Council uses local building companies and suppliers.

The Armenian population in general is also in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, and to avoid creating discord between the local population and the refugees, it is important that the projects also benefit the local population. Another instrument in this context is human rights work. The Norwegian Refugee Council provides training in human rights issues for teachers and is also working with the Armenian authorities to introduce human rights teaching into the school curriculum.

The Norwegian Refugee Council is working on a survey to map out the movements of inhabitants in 180 damaged villages along the Azeri border. Many of these people chose to leave their villages during the conflict. The Armenian government does not have control over the situation in these villages, and neither do they know where the people who fled are situated today. Due to this a survey is being carried out to give the government and other donors the opportunity to contribute with support for these border villages based on the actual needs, as well as support for voluntary return of the internally displaced.

Recent developments - the conflict and the refugee situation

There has been a ceasefire in the region since 1994, but so far the peace talks have not resulted in a permanent peaceful solution. The Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and six surrounding provinces in Azerbaijan are still occupied. Negotiations are being carried out under the direction of the Minsk group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but several peace proposals have been rejected by the parties, both of whom are adamant in their demands. There still seems to be little political will to resolve the key issue of the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. At the moment there is scarcely any real contact between the two countries: the border is closed, it is difficult to ring from one country to the other, there is no trade between them, and few Azerbaijanis and Armenians visit each other's countries.

Refugees from Azerbaijan (ethnic Armenians who were living in Azerbaijan before war broke out) are not expected to return. The refugees were offered Armenian nationality and access to relevant economic schemes and property in 1998. However, this offer was shrouded with uncertainty, and the refugees have been reticent in applying for Armenian nationality. One of the reasons for this is that they fear losing the aid they receive as refugees and the right to compensation for property lost in Azerbaijan.

Background

In the mainly Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan, the Karabakh Armenians' demand for independence in 1991 led to war, supported by Armenia. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee. Ethnic Armenians from the whole of Azerbaijan fled to Armenia. In addition, the fighting in the borderlands between Armenia and Azerbaijan led to 70 000 Armenians fleeing to other parts of the country. Ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Armenia fled to Azerbaijan, and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from Nagorno Karabakh and the surrounding areas to other parts of Azerbaijan. The Armenians living in Azerbaijan fled the other way.

The conflict between the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis in Nagorno Karabakh has been labelled ethnic. However, the conflicts between the two peoples, which have deep historical roots, are not the whole reason behind the situation. Arbitrary moving of borders and forced removal of entire groups of people during the Soviet period have also exacerbated the conflict. Further, Russia has manipulated the conflict in order to secure its own strategic and economic interests. Major economic difficulties after the breakdown of the Soviet Union have not eased the conflict either.